Engineering Team Builds Balloon DroneGeneral

Final-year Mechanical Engineering students (from left) Mr Mikhail Narsai, Mr Morne’ Zeeman and Ms Shannon Freese with supervisor Dr Michael Brooks. Together they designed a balloon drone seen here during trials.Final-year Mechanical Engineering students (from left) Mr Mikhail Narsai, Mr Morne’ Zeeman and Ms Shannon Freese with supervisor Dr Michael Brooks. Together they designed a balloon drone seen here during trials.

An ASReg balloon drone is one of many exciting and unusual projects on display at the 2016 Mechanical Engineering Open Day this Friday.

The drone was designed and built by Senior Lecturer Dr Michael Brooks and three of his final year undergraduate students: Mr Mikhail Narsai, Ms Shannon Freese and Mr Morne’ Zeeman.

For now the balloon drone will only be used indoors and in wind-free outdoor conditions.  Brooks said that the objective of the drone project was to combine a lighter-than-air lifting envelope with a highly manoeuvrable propulsion system to extend the flying time of the unmanned vehicle and also to demonstrate aerial recharging of batteries using solar energy.

The students also aim to demonstrate stable flight control, including the ability to manoeuvre the drone vertically, rotationally and horizontally.

Narsai designed the drone’s propulsion system which includes three electric motors that can be pivoted to change the vehicle’s direction. He was also responsible for the avionics used to control the drone.

Freese designed a solar concentrator with a 6 m focal length that will be used to direct sunlight towards a high concentration photovoltaic cell located on the underside of the vehicle. This will convert the light energy into useful battery power.

‘This project pushes boundaries in that the solar cell is airborne and the concentrator can be positioned so that a battery can be charged in the air,’ explained Freese.

Zeeman was responsible for designing the aerial vehicle’s envelope and analysing its aerodynamic performance. ‘The thing that excites me the most about this type of vehicle is its vast use, which could range from search and rescue to delivering products,’ he said.

Basetsana Mogashoa